In January 2014, a Verizon customer explained his inability to call 911.
The customer noted that there have been many times when the lines would not dial out and outside callers attempting to reach his house were disconnected before the phone could be answered on one ring.
Frustrated, the unidentified individual noted that his calls also were randomly disconnected in the middle of conversations and that Verizon workers had been dispatched to his home as many as 20 times in less than a two-year period. “Nothing has been rectified.”
The complaint is found among the 27-page petition filed with the Public Utilities Commission by the Communications Workers of America, which is based in Washington, D.C.
The union, which represents 700,000 workers in private and public sector employment in 10,000 communities – including in the District – across the country, is calling on officials to open an investigation into unsafe conditions at Verizon locations.
The dangerous conditions are due to Verizon’s systemic underinvestment in its traditional landline network, union attorney Scott J. Rubin said.
In July, Verizon admitted in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in Southwest Washington, D.C., that it had only spent $200 million over the last seven years to maintain its copper landline network in the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and 10 other states, Rubin said.
The union asked the PUC to order Verizon to take immediate actions to correct “these dangerous conditions” and to fine Verizon for what appear to be willful failures to safely maintain its equipment.
According to the petition, the commission has the authority to fine Verizon up to $1,000 per day for each safety violation.
“The commission takes all of these very seriously,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, the press secretary for the PUC.
The petition, which includes numerous photos depicting the alleged violations by Verizon, was received on Oct. 21 and is being reviewed, Hagen-Frederiksen said.
Taken during the summer, the photos show cut-off utility poles that are dangling above busy streets and sidewalks.
They also show phone equipment that has been wrapped in plastic and phone lines that have been spliced.
Union officials allege that Verizon has neglected its copper network and, instead, has financed the introduction of its high-speed fiber-optic Internet and television services in major areas like Philadelphia.
“Per PUC regulation, the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate, Office of Small Business Advocate and Verizon PA have been served with a copy of the petition,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “The parties have until Nov. 10th to file answers and responsive pleadings to the petition.”
Verizon officials, however, appeared to shrug off the complaints as a union negotiating ploy, noting that the company’s contract with more than 37,000 employees in Pennsylvania and nine other states expired on Aug. 1.
“We believe the CWA’s filing in Pennsylvania is part of a narrowed-minded attempt by the union to try and divert attention from our ongoing contract negotiations,” Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said.
“As we’ve seen many times in the past, union leaders have an ill-advised pattern of creating campaigns filled with mischaracterizations and inaccurate statements. This is another example of that same old broken record.”
Still, the union, which called the situation “dangerous,” said an investigation is necessary, and while there have been no reports of injuries, thousands of individuals already have complained.
“We know this is endemic across the footprint,” said Debbie Goldman, the union’s telecommunications policy director.
In the petition, Goldman and other union officials wrote that “What CWA found … were numerous instances throughout the commonwealth of physical plant in an appalling state of disrepair that pose a safety hazard to utility employees and the public.”
Verizon maintains that if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, they will look into it and fix it, if necessary.
“The reality behind the union’s campaign is a misguided attempt to try and force the company to hire more union employees, which will increase membership and enhance revenues for the union,” Bonomo said.
“It’s the wrong approach. If the CWA truly wants to improve our network, they could start by working with us at the bargaining table on a new contract that’s fair to our employees, our customers and positions the company on a path toward success.”